Do we know who is actually doing the chip design. Is it really rockchip ?
If it is Intel, then Intel would need a Mali license.
Also, if by whatever way, Mali could theoritcally be an option for this chip, does ARM have any history whatsoever in Mali x86 graphics drivers ?
Also it seems a strange chip design alliance. Rockchip will have zero experience in designing a chip using Intel's internal chip bus structure, all of rockchips designs, and any IP they bring, will have been built around the standard ARM interconnect bus.
All of the IP will be driven in the past using ARM designed/customized and debugged drivers.
You have to look at this from a long-term perspective -- this is a *war* and sometimes there will be short-term tactical sacrifices to achieve the long-term goal.
In this case, what Intel is doing with SoFIA, is essentially recognizing that for the low-end smartphone and tablet markets, it needs a fully integrated part in order to compete. Not coincidentally, this market matters because it is not only likely the *largest* in terms of unit volume, but it is also the most robust in terms of growth.
Anyway, so Intel has 2 fundamental problems in mobile:
(1) X86-64 is currently a second class citizen in the world of Android. While Intel has spent a lot of money trying to enable this ecosystem for X86 (and it has done a pretty decent job), developers ultimately don't care to optimize for architectures that are the minority. AMD had a very difficult time convincing developers to use its proprietary X86 extensions and AMD had reasonable market share. To remedy this, Intel needs lots of volume.
(2) Intel, unlike Qualcomm/MediaTek/etc. has traditionally not focused on bringing down the bill of materials cost of its platforms. This is why Bay Trail requires significant BoM-equalizing contra-revenue to be saleable. On top of that, Intel's products have typically lacked the integration that its competitors have, further damaging its competitiveness.
So, to solve (1), Intel needs to go broadly and deeply, and it needs to do so ASAP. Every moment Intel loses is a moment that an Android developer doesn't bother to optimize for X86. That is why Intel is offsetting the bill of materials issues with contra-revenue with Bay Trail, and why it is so keen to get these TSMC 28nm products out (they are designed to not require contra-revenue).
To solve (2), Intel needs an integrated modem. The Infineon Wireless team that Intel acquired was likely working on a whole pipeline of baseband/RF chips on TSMC's processes. So, in order to integrate a modem, Intel couldnt' spend additional time/money to port the WIP designs to its own 22nm process -- it needed to get something out now. So, they ported over the Atom core to 28nm and are building the first iteration of integration-competitive, BoM-competitive parts on TSMC's 28nm process since that's where the modem is already.
Now, in the short term (2015), this means that Intel hands over the foundry margin, but it no longer has to pay the enormous BoM offset (~$20/unit per Intel CFO), so net/net, the SoFIA chips should be marginally profitable rather than money-losers per unit. However, you correctly note that Intel doesn't benefit much here from a profit standpoint and TSMC wins.
But do note now that with market share for IA established, the partnerships with the OEMs stronger, and with time to port over all of the relevant IPs, Intel will bring these parts to 14nm during early 2016 and beyond. This means now that Intel collects the foundry margin, doesn't pay too much for IP royalties (using its own CPU core), and has a manufacturing lead over everybody else.
At this point in time, even if Intel outsourced the SOC integration to Rockchip for some low-end SKUs, it would still in effect collect foundry margin AND the margin of an IP vendor (ala ARM). This is extremely profitable, especially as the 14nm factories will have pumped out 10's of billions of dollars worth high end Broadwells and Skylakes to cover most if not all of the depreciation of the factories by then.
At this point, if Intel can deliver competitive products, it will have a cost structure edge over all of the fabless players, thus starting the chain reaction to ultimate long-term business success in this area.
It's a good strategy, but for it to work, Intel needs to execute, something its mobile group has had difficulty with in the past. Time will tell, however.
Well I would like to see an explanation that makes sense. First of all Intel needs to get high volume with these SoCs to make a profit at all. That's not a given since x86 on Android has so far not been very successful, and the low end already has already several highly efficient CPUs (eg. Cortex-A7 and A17) that will compete with Silvermont.
Using 28nm TSMC means most of the profit will now go to TSMC, not to Intel. While the higher volume will offset the lower profits per chip, Intel now has additional costs, both in terms of porting to TSMC 28nm as well as even lower utilization of their 22nm fabs. Still think this is a win-win situation?
Intel is unlikely to use ARM GPU IP, but Intel's own IP is out of the question for this generation as well given that Intel's major graphics overhauls happen at 14nm (and the current Gen 7 GPU from Intel is very poor).
My guess is that the entire SoFIA lineup, as with the 22nm Merrifield/Moorefield platforms, will use Imagination IP. Intel has experience writing drivers for ImgTec AND Intel is Imagination's largest shareholder.
If Intel can sell Rockchip SoCs without any "contra-revenue" that will be a big help to Intel's bottom line. Actually, just a little help, since there's not a lot of revenue involved in low-end tablet chips, regardless of what core is inside.